clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Despite ‘mind-blowing’ jobless claims, Utah economy still strong, economist says

The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City now bears the name of the late Gov. Olene S. Walker. The building was renamed during a ceremony celebrating the department’s 20th anniversary on Thursday, June 29, 2017.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A top economist in Utah calls the continuing employment crisis “mind-blowing” as thousands of out-of-work Utahns are still in need of financial help and filing new weekly claims for unemployment benefits.

“It is somewhat mind-blowing to think that over 330,000 Utahns have had to file for unemployment benefits since this pandemic began,” explained Taylor Randall, economic recovery lead for Utah’s Unified Response Team and the dean of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. “In fact, where we’re sitting today with roughly just under 30,000 weekly filings continuing at this point — that is actually rather amazing.”

Randall noted that despite the governor’s recently announced two-week state of emergency, Utah remains open for business and economically strong.

“These new regulations were designed to the extent possible to keep business and the economy rolling,” he said. “We want you to go dine, we want you to go shop, we want you to engage in the economy in general. But you do that wearing a mask, keeping physical distance and when you go to restaurants — particularly those event-type activities — we need you to be within your own household.”

He emphasized that for the restrictions to lead to a good outcome, Utahns must do their part.

“You may have seen in the Wall Street Journal where it is really the social gatherings — ‘the casual America’ — that is making this virus spread,” Randall said. “So we’ve got a two-week window to really nail this.”

The Utah Department of Workforce Services Thursday reported the number of new claims filed for unemployment benefits registered at 4,060 for the week of Nov. 1 through Nov. 7, up from 3,866 a week earlier.

“Keep in mind, 4,000 claims were filed last week. Last year, the average per week, for some perspective was about 1,100,” said state Unemployment Insurance Division director Kevin Burt. ”So we still continue to be at about four times higher the number of new claims than we were last year.”

Traditional unemployment claims were up 10.3%, while Pandemic Employment Assistance — unemployment for the self-employed or gig worker — was down 6%. The extended benefit, which is a federally funded benefit to extend benefits for up to 13 weeks, was also down 1.3%.

There were also 29,365 continued claims filed last week.

“The demand for the unemployment benefit persists as the COVID-19 virus remains disruptive to employment in Utah’s recovering economy,” Burt said. “The benefit has already helped hundreds of thousands of Utahns and will continue to provide much needed, temporary relief to those who see their employment interrupted during this difficult pandemic.”

With the volume of coronavirus cases increasing rapidly in Utah, a number of workers are being asked to quarantine, Burt said, putting many individuals in a precarious financial position. Speaking at a weekly news conference, he noted that those forced to stay home do have some resources they can tap into.

“If I am an employee that has been asked to quarantine, am I eligible for unemployment insurance? And the answer is ‘yes,’ that an individual is eligible for unemployment insurance if they are asked to quarantine because of COVID-19,” he said. “It’s not that they’re eligible for 39 weeks, they are eligible for the time period that they have been asked to quarantine. Once they’re able to successfully return to work, then they will fall off the benefit.”

He added that there are other options besides the unemployment insurance benefits for workers sidelined by quarantine.

For employers that have less than 50 employees, the state received (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) funds, some of which were earmarked to help pay the wages of individuals that have been asked to be quarantined. Qualified recipients could get up to two weeks of their full wages paid, he said.

“Unemployment insurance could be available to that individual, but the unemployment insurance is a 40% to 50% replacement wage,” Burt said. “So if you are an employee of a business of less than 50 employees, it is better to pursue this CARES Act funds to receive your full replacement wage for that two-week quarantine period.”

The money allows small businesses to continue to retain their talent and continue to support their employees as Utah continues to see COVID-19 cases climb, he added.

Randall urged individuals looking for work to take advantage of the positions that are currently available on the DWS jobs webpage.

“They’re more than 2,100 ‘hot jobs’ there, information technology has 187 jobs, finance and banking has 367, advanced manufacturing 217,” he said. “You’ll find plentiful jobs in health care, manufacturing and life sciences. If those jobs don’t interest you, there are another 30,000 jobs on their website.”